Yes, ‘vegan’ is a useful word. Here’s why I might stop identifying as such.

Update, October 19, 2014: I have now left the vegan singles group mentioned in this post. The conversation associated with the image used as an example below continued to display misogyny. Even as jokes, some remarks, such as a moderator’s suggestion that a man “put a bag over her head” while she’s giving him the “bomb head” are unacceptable. I have also left another vegan singles group where the image went entirely unchallenged.

There have been a few illuminating developments recently on a Facebook vegan singles group that I’ve previously mentioned. First, a number of people, of both sexes, joined the group and began exchanging photos that emphasized physical attributes but carried little additional information. Pressed on this point, one replied that he valued women who “take care of themselves.”

The group’s moderator agreed to something called ‘Sexy Saturday,’ and decreed that all such posts should be confined to that thread, which would exist for a limited time only on Saturdays.

At about the same time, a number of posts began appearing asking personal questions about sexual preferences and about body parts—adolescent level stuff about penis size and breast size, for example.

Not everyone complied with the Sexy Saturday rules, which I saw as a reasonable compromise. It’s not too much to ask a Facebook user to scroll past one obnoxious thread, but I continued to see these photos scattered across my time line outside the thread. I cried foul and complained that the group had become a ‘meat market.’

After some conversation—some might call it a flame war—and a survey (which seemed to indicate support for Sexy Saturdays), the moderator suddenly created a new group, essentially folded the old group, and said all the old members should join the new group. He did this, he said, because he was not the group’s creator and he wanted to be able to appoint other moderators without them being able to strip him of power over the group.

The moderator he appointed was a prominent voice in opposition to Sexy Saturdays (not me). And Sexy Saturdays themselves are gone.

I may have won the battle and lost the war. Indeed, the war may have been lost before I even entered it. I might here point to PETA’s exploitation of women’s bodies as an example.[1]

Fig. 1. Remember the cardboard cutouts of people you could dress up with cutout clothing? Image via Facebook, fair use.
Fig. 1. Remember the cardboard cutouts of people you could dress up with cutout clothing? Image via Facebook, fair use.

Now, I present figure 1 as exhibit A in what’s wrong with veganism.

The problem, I pointed out, with dating sites is that they encourage people to compose “shopping lists” of attributes. If, and only if, a potential partner possesses all of these attributes is the shopping list complete. It is a consumerist approach to finding a mate that objectifies people and reduces them to something less than the sum of their parts. I found a fair amount of support for my position. One other member of the group labeled it a “misogynists’ drive-thru.” Another asked why we are monetizing humans, saying he wasn’t looking for a prostitute.

One member, however, staunchly defended his right to have a list of attributes he was looking for and refused to acknowledge that he was treating persons as reduced lists of attributes or that there was anything wrong with what he was doing. Another blew off the entire conversation and picked numbered attributes that I guess totaled less than five dollars. He said, “Keep the change.”

These incidents are starting to seem less isolated. Just yesterday, there was a flame war in which it was clear that empathy and compassion were not top attributes among vegans. They too often judge others by their own circumstances, not the circumstances of the people themselves. They assume economic opportunity, for example.

Which leads to another incident, in which a new member introduced herself saying she was not interested in anyone who was unemployed. That thread ended with an assertion that such a restriction was eminently reasonable. As someone who has struggled his entire life trying to make his way in a neoliberal economic system, and failed, yes, I was offended.

I’m being offended a bit too much lately, suggesting that I am not among people who are right for me.

But for me, veganism is a logical progression from anarchism. In fact, my argument is the vegetarian ecofeminist argument,[2] an argument that connects how we treat each other as human beings with how we treat the environment and how we treat animals. In this argument, the underlying problem, the common element in our treatment of each other, of animals, and of the environment, is an attitude that endorses exploitation and domination. In essence, it is a system of social organization in which less privileged people, animals, and the environment are all here to serve the purposes of the more privileged, rather than that persons must never be means, but rather ends in themselves.[3]

I may have erred in conflating veganism with vegetarian ecofeminism. ‘Vegan’ is still a useful word. It labels products that are acceptable to use. But I’m increasingly disappointed in many of the people who label themselves as ‘vegan.’ I’m looking for people who are more critical in their outlook.

Accordingly, I’m renaming this blog. It is now for vegetarian ecofeminists.

  1. [1]Carol L. Glasser, “Tied Oppressions: An Analysis of How Sexist Imagery Reinforces Speciesist Sentiment,” Brock Review 12, no. 1 (2011): 51-68; Molly Redden, “PETA’s Offensive Solution to the Plan B Weight-Limit Crisis,” Mother Jones, December 2, 2013, http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2013/12/plan-b-weight-limits-peta-vegan; Mary Elizabeth Williams, “Surprise, PETA! Sex doesn’t sell,” Salon, December 20, 2013, http://www.salon.com/2013/12/20/surprise_peta_sex_doesnt_sell/
  2. [2]Greta Gaard, “Vegetarian Ecofeminism: A Review Essay,” Frontiers 23, no. 3 (2002): 117-146.
  3. [3]David Benfell, “The inevitability of speciesism,” December 7, 2012, https://parts-unknown.org/wp/2012/12/07/the-inevitability-of-speciesism/; David Benfell, “‘We have found the enemy, and he is us’ — and our system of social organization,” March 6, 2013, https://parts-unknown.org/wp/2013/03/06/we-have-found-the-enemy-and-he-is-us-and-our-system-of-social-organization/

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